The last time I read an urban fantasy about a Native American skinwalker, it was a rather unfulfilling experience. Thus, I am happy to report that my first experience with the Mercy Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs, left Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock far, far in the dust. Not to say it’s a masterpiece, but I personally enjoyed it so much more.
Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a part-native woman, the descendant of a line of skinwalkers who could change themselves into coyotes. There are intimations that she might be capable of much more, but Moon Called does not delve too deeply into that. Indeed, it largely just sets things up for the rest of Mercy’s saga to follow. But I somewhat digress.
Mercy works as a mechanic, but she has connections within much of the supernatural community. She was raised by werewolves, specifically the super-alpha pack of North America, and she has a more local (albeit powerful) Alpha for a neighbor. Her old boss, and still sometimes-helper now that he’s sold her the business and semi-retired, is a metal-working Fae. It should be noted that the Fae outed themselves to the public eye of humanity, at the bidding of their terrifying overlords some years ago, and they’ve been dealing with lots of prejudicial backlash ever since. There are also vampires, one of whom is a regular customer of Mercy’s, exchanging her services in place of the money in their “protection” racket. Mercy even has a local undercover cop for a friend, though the human faction is mostly the background that the supernatural characters have to navigate their way through. Oh, and there are witches, whom every supernatural faction, including Mercy, is familiar with.
These many connections Mercy has are important to the plot and her role in it. She’s not some wizardly private detective, or a glorified hunter, a necromancer-for-hire, a millionaire wizard, or a bullied, oppressed, nerdy incubus. She’s a humble(ish) mechanic with one special skill she knows about. But she’s capable, brave, smart, has good instincts, and she cares enough about those around her to do something when a crisis hits and threatens them all. And that’s basically what she does. She’s not on a case, or on a hunt, she’s just dealing with a crisis, which is a useful, remarkable ability in and of itself.
And she doesn’t do it all alone. That’s something I really like, even if it means some solutions come to her instead of the other way around. Many other stories have the main protagonist doing everything on their own, or maybe they do everything “with help,” but Mercy is simply helping out, and receiving help in turn. It really is a group effort, and she’s not the de facto leader of everyone around her. She’s very independently-minded, and not really part of any group or faction, but she’s not all on her own. She really is part of the community around her, even if she doesn’t entirely realize that herself.
Now, that does come with a certain trade-off. She feels like a central character, but not always the central character. She plays an important role in the plot, but she isn’t necessarily driving it. As a result, some of the things she has to deal with, and the way she deals with them, can feel a bit contrived.
For instance, the constant aggressiveness of the werewolves. They are human, but with a literal beastly side to them that seems to have largely merged with their subconscious, and which often directs their behaviors, such as the constant territorial, predatory, and generally aggressive behavior. It gets a bit ridiculous to believe that these people are somehow surviving unseen in modern society, instead of, say, constantly leaving a mile-wide wake of violence behind them. But Mercy navigates all of that almost flawlessly, with a special skill for knowing how best to calm the situation, or werewolves, at hand.
It also… strained belief, we shall say… when it turned out that werewolves have mates, which they presumably go through the act of breeding with, yet successful breeding is almost impossible for them under any circumstances. The exact details to that, I will not go into. Suffice to say that I find the natural, animalistic need to breed to be a bit at odds with a supernatural creature’s apparent nigh-inability to do so. There’s even this whole thing where all the female werewolves hate Mercy and would happily tear her apart simply because she could breed, while they simply can’t. That doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, I could see some of them being that jealous and vicious, but not all of them.
Then, of course, there’s the plot itself. I thought it was about one thing, but it turned out to be completely different. I thought I saw some pretty clear indicators of some vast, treacherous conspiracy, but it turned out to just be one guy and his motley group of pawns, which wasn’t even really unified, which sort of diminished the tension a bit by the end. Finally, most of the book, as I’ve mentioned, seemed to be about setting things up, most especially Mercy’s place in the supernatural community, the fact that she does what she wants and what she feels is needed no matter what anyone else says, and, of course, the love triangle between Mercy and two Alpha-type werewolves. I can understand why they would be attracted to each other, but there was more “telling” than “showing” about it actually happening.
So, there’s a few ways in which the book might have been improved, or at least different, but it’s not half-bad at all. I enjoyed Mercy, and not because of some razor-sharp wit or awesome power, but because she’s a good person and I would probably find her easy to get along with. She had a mess come her way, and dealt with it, and the many tangles surrounding it, as best she could, and she got it right. She has a variety of friends who are also enjoyable in their own right, and the urban fantasy aspect felt… well, real. Not overdone or epic, just real (for the most part).
I wouldn’t say I was riveted from start to finish, but I was interested, and I am still interested in reading the rest of the series, and quite soon.
Rating: I would give Moon Called, oh, say, a good 7 stars out of 10.
Grade: C-Plus. Bordering on a B-Minus.
(Though I’ve certainly never seen a car mechanic dress quite like that!)